Having difficult clients is inevitable. However, in dealing with them, it is important to focus on the work and understand where they are coming from. It is also necessary to determine and understand the problem and then focus on coming up with a resolution. Communicate everything in writing so everything is documented and then try again. However, in worst-case scenarios, it would be more beneficial for both parties to let them go.
Why are there difficult clients?
Clients aren't always easy to deal with. Whether they're difficult because they don't read your emails, don't respond to your calls, or send you a ton of changes at the last minute, it can be stressful to work with them. However, it's important to remember that clients are people too, and just like everyone else, they're entitled to their feelings.
When a client is difficult for you personally, it's easy to take everything personally. It's important to understand that this isn't about you—it's about the client having a hard time communicating what they want, or having other personal issues going on in their lives. It's important not to jump to conclusions—if something comes off as offensive or hurtful, ask yourself if it could be anything other than personal before assuming so.
Understand where your clients are coming from
When you're dealing with difficult clients, remember that even though they might be challenging for you, they're still people—people who have feelings and whose feelings are often hurt by things going wrong. Understand where your clients are coming from and see it from their point of view. A lot of times, your clients are upset because they're worried about losing out on something or having to go through extra trouble as a result of something going wrong.
For example, you may have a client who has very high standards and is very demanding. This type of person might come across as difficult to work with, but if you dig deeper, you'll find that they've had their fair share of experiences with people who didn't deliver on promises or fell short on quality. As such, this type of person might really just be looking for someone who will follow through and do a good job—and if you can offer that to them, then suddenly the relationship becomes much more positive and productive.
Determine the main issue
One of the best practices when working with a new client is to sit down with them and understand what their true needs are. Ask them how they envision this project being completed and how they want it delivered to them, based on the timeline they have given. You will find that by understanding their expectations you would be able to better understand the scope of the project and deliver on what they need.
You will also find it important to listen closely, as this will help determine how much time is required for this project as well as provide a better understanding of why certain decisions are being made throughout the process. More than dwelling on trivial things, assuming, and taking everything personally, it is essential to clearly communicate the true issue at hand for you to remain focused and move forward.
Focus on coming up with a resolution
Your job is to help them resolve the issues they've come to discuss with you. This can be difficult when necessary information is missing or when a client becomes emotional about the situation. Sometimes, clients just want to hear a solution from you even if it’s not fully baked. If the client is acting out of line, respond by calmly explaining why their behavior isn't helpful; otherwise, stay focused on the task at hand and find ways to work through any roadblocks they put up. You may also need to get your supervisor or another member of management involved if the client is being particularly difficult and/or if they turn aggressive or abusive toward you or anyone else in your workplace.
The best thing you can do is shift your focus from arguing with them or trying to make them happy to resolve the situation in the most mutually beneficial way possible—whether that means making compromises, finding common ground, or identifying a mutually beneficial solution that works best for everyone involved.
Always communicate in writing
Communicate everything in writing. A good rule of thumb is: If it's not in writing, it didn't happen! This is especially true when dealing with difficult clients. You should always communicate everything in writing — even if it's just an e-mail — so there's no room for misinterpretation or confusion later on down the line. It also helps create a paper trail in case things go south between you and your client.
If a client makes a complaint, respond immediately and completely in writing. Your response should include an apology and a detailed explanation of what happened, along with any steps you plan to take to prevent similar problems in the future. Include copies of any related documents or contracts that support your position. You can also ask them if they would like any additional information or documentation before making your final decision on how best to address their concerns.
Reset the rules and try again
It is important to try to keep the lines of communication open and clear with these clients so you can help them understand what it is you need from them. Sometimes all that's needed is a reminder of how things work at your company and confirmation that they understand this. If they are willing to make the changes you want, you can set up goals or deadlines that are realistic and fair to both parties. A good practice in this case is to set an agenda with deliverables and deadlines so that the client has no room for complaints.
Try to reset the rules and try again. Remind them of what was agreed upon before and ask them to follow through with it without giving any excuses about why they can't or won't deliver what was promised. If things stay in their toxic and counterproductive cycle—if they can't keep their word or deliver on time—it could be signs of deeper personal problems and the time to finally let go.
Let them go
In the case that this client is your bread and butter, you might feel like it's better to let them stay so you can have a regular income. But if there are problems within this relationship that are affecting the quality of your work and making the whole thing toxic, it would be better to part ways before the whole thing comes crashing down.
The best way to know when a client needs to go is when you stop being able to give them what they want. If you don't agree on timelines, if they aren't receptive to feedback, if they're only interested in quantity and not quality, or if a project keeps going in circles because of miscommunication—these are all signs that your client may be difficult for you in one way or another, and that it might be time for a clean break.
In sum, it is important to remember that difficult clients (and projects) come in all shapes and sizes. However, with a willingness to work things out, patience, and professionalism, most situations can be overcome. Ultimately, the fact that they are different isn't a bad thing; in fact, it can be seen can an opportunity for growth and development. The important thing is to find effective ways to work together, harnessing the differences in order to create something new and spectacular for everyone involved.